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Mike Scott Podewell v. Michael J. Astrue

August 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim


Mike Podewell applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423, 1382c, claiming that his bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), and Parkinson's-related tremors preclude him from working. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") concluded that only Podewell's mental impairments are severe, and that even those are not disabling. The ALJ denied Podewell's applications for benefits-a decision Podewell is challenging in the current motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted:

Procedural History

Podewell applied for SSI and DIB in December 2007, claiming that his disability began on November 18, 2007. (A.R. 147, 152.) The Commissioner denied his claims initially and on reconsideration. (Id. at 76-79.) Podewell then requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Id. at 98.) After conducting the hearing and considering the medical evidence, the assigned ALJ denied Podewell's claims on March 19, 2010. (Id. at 11-23.) When the Appeals Council denied review, (id. at 1), the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, see Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 563 (7th Cir. 2009). Podewell then filed the current suit seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); (R. 9).


Podewell has struggled with bi-polar disorder and ADHD since childhood, and at the age of 42, he began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson's disease. (A.R. 32, 38, 43.) In applying for disability benefits, Podewell claimed that in November 2007 he became disabled by a combination of his ADHD, anxiety, memory loss, numbness, and "terrible left hand shaking." (Id. at 200.) Podewell says that these conditions forced him to quit his job as a waiter and rendered him incapable of performing other work. (Id.) At his February 2010 hearing before the ALJ, Podewell introduced both documentary and testimonial evidence in support of his claims.

A. Medical Evidence

The medical record reveals that in the two and a half years leading up to his hearing Podewell was treated for bipolar disorder, ADHD, and depression. He was prescribed several medications to treat these conditions, including Cymbalta (for depression and anxiety). (A.R. 207.) In August 2008 a medical evaluator for the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), Terry Travis, reviewed Podewell's psychiatric file and submitted an evaluation of Podewell's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (Id. at 441-53.) Travis concluded that Podewell's ADHD and bipolar disorder caused only moderate limitations in his activities of daily living and his ability to maintain social functioning, concentration, persistence, and pace. (Id. at 451.) Despite receiving psychiatric treatment throughout 2008 and 2009, (id. at 466-81, 575-91), Podewell was hospitalized following a suicide attempt on September 25, 2009, (id. at 528-33). During his hospitalization Podewell told his care-givers that he intentionally overdosed on Lexapro-a drug prescribed to treat depression-because he felt he was a burden to his family. (Id. at 530.) He was released from the hospital four days later, after his doctors adjusted his medications. (Id. at 533.)

Beginning in late 2007, Podewell also sought treatment for hand tremors. After he fell down and injured his head, (A.R. 315), Podewell was seen by a neurologist named Dr. Yu Liu. Podewell told Dr. Liu that he had been experiencing dizziness and headaches intermittently for more than a year, and that he was currently experiencing hand tremors. (Id. at 333, 353.) Dr. Liu characterized the shaking in his hands as "a benign essential tremor." (Id. at 353.) Beginning in February 2008, Podewell was treated by another neurologist, Dr. Marvin Zelkowitz. (Id. at 483.) A month after their first appointment, Dr. Zelkowitz wrote to the Illinois Department of Human Services to report that Podewell has Parkinson's Disease. (Id. at 394.) Parkinson's is a degenerative motor system disorder, with early symptoms including shaking, rigidity, and slowness of movement. See (last visited 08/01/11). Dr. Zelkowitz wrote that Podewell's condition includes "severe bradykinesia,"- or slowness of movement, see id.-and noted that "the tremor is present in his arms and legs," (A.R. 394). He wrote that Podewell has difficulty with "his gait and station" and with dexterous movements, including handling objects. (Id.) Dr. Zelkowitz opined that given the relatively early onset of Podewell's disease, "he is likely to become significantly worse in a relatively short period of time." (Id.)

Following Dr. Zelkowitz's report, SSA medical reviewer Dr. Jack Kundin conducted an analysis of Podewell's case. (A.R. 398.) Dr. Kundin noted that a few weeks before Dr. Zelkowitz wrote his letter describing Podewell's severe tremors and gait difficulties, Podewell had completed a form reporting his daily activities in which he made no mention of having trouble walking. (Id.) He noted that Parkinson's is a "slowly progressive disorder," and that for Podewell's condition to deteriorate so rapidly "is not at all typical." (Id.) He recommended that SSA recontact Dr. Zelkowitz to see whether he thought Podewell's movement disorder might be a side-effect of the Cymbalta Podewell was prescribed for depression. (Id.)

In response to Dr. Kundin's analysis, in June 2008 Dr. Zelkowitz completed a neurological report reaffirming his diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. (A.R. 402-03.) He advised that Podewell's tremors "will only deteriorate over time and will be a life-long affliction," but did not provide further details. (Id. at 402.) A month later Dr. Admasu Kumssa, an internist, performed a consultative examination of Podewell on behalf of SSA.

(Id. at 411-15.) In his report, Dr. Kumssa stated that Podewell has a tremor in his right hand, but that it was "not very typical for Parkinson's." (Id. at 414.) He also noted that when Podewell was distracted his hand did not shake as much. (Id.) Dr. Kumssa nonetheless diagnosed Podewell as presenting with "Parkinsonism" as well as bipolar disorder and ADHD. (Id. at 415.)

Following the consultative examination, Dr. Reynaldo Gatanco reviewed the file and provided SSA with an RFC assessment. (A.R. 433-440.) Dr. Gatanco opined that Podewell has no manipulative limitations and only mild exertional limitations. (A.R. 434, 436.) Dr. Gatanco acknowledged Dr. Zelkowitz's diagnosis of Parkinson's, but noted that Podewell was taking Cymbalta, which can cause tremors as a side effect. (Id. at 440.) Dr. Gatanco found Podewell's claims to be only "partially credible" because, according to his review of the notes from the consultative exam, Podewell's "symptoms are due to the side effects of his medications," and not Parkinson's disease. (Id.)

Six months after Dr. Gatanco completed his RFC assessment, Dr. Zelkowitz completed a separate assessment at Podewell's request. (A.R. 483-87.) Much of the RFC form is left blank, but Dr. Zelkowitz checked boxes indicating that Podewell experiences tremors, impaired gait, muscular aches, and chronic fatigue. (Id. at 483.) He did not ...

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